Every week I am going to try and debunk excuses that non-readers have not to read, because in my perfect world, everybody reads something. The newspapers, magazines, novels, science books, I don't care what. But reading is a way to keep people well informed and it's a terrific source of entertainment. I will keep my argument structured around the reading of fiction because it's what I know best, but feel free to personalize my arugments when you discuss with non-readers. You can read the first excuse I debunked here.
Excuse #02 - Teacher made me read in high school, it was dreadful.
This is going to be harder than last week. It's a perfectly logical complain. Shit, the things my teachers made me read in high school sometimes made me want to snort whatever was under the kitchen sink, to forget the pain. I remember my ninth grade literature teacher answered to a student complain once that if he didn't develop a love for reading, he would always remain (and I'm quoting him verbatim here) "in his filth". Talk of a harsh thing to tell a fourteen years old. And that came from a man who came to work in snowmobile during the winter and reeked of exhaust fumes. Anyway, the man passed away since then and he quite liked me, so enough smack talk about him. But here's my point. No teacher has actually showed me how to LEARN before I met a certain Mr. Z who thought me how to box when I was twenty.
One of my awesome clients at work has a great name for that problem. The Common Sense Gene. Not everybody has it. The awesome client in question once told me you have to turn off the Common Sense Gene when talking to women, but his latent misoginy is beside the point. Artistic sensibility is not a software you have installed at birth or not. It's not genetic like common sense or reserved to a certain elite. Take a twelve years old kid and serve him a glass of a wine from your best hundred years old, ten thousand dollars worth pinot. I'm ready to bet you a hundred bucks here that he will like grape juice better. Because he doesn't know better. How can he taste worth? Tell me. From most wine adepts I have talked to, you can't possibily know the difference in between a fifty bucks bottle and a 10K bottle unless you're REALLY into it. Guess what? Same thing applies to literature.
How can you appreciate The Great Gatsby if it's the first book you ever read? Things are moving slowly, there is a lot of talking and description. It sure shit isn't like television. If you don't know good from bad in literature, you can't appreciate the finest. You need to read shitty stories first. It's a learning process. If you have never read a novel before, there is a great chance that you find James Patterson amazing. And it's cool, you should be. But if you keep reading him, you're eventually going to grow tired of his gimmicky approach and look for something more substantial. That's where you need to put in some effort and flip the common sense switch. There are plenty of writers that kick Patterson into the dust. The pulp writers would be a good second step. They write some really visceral stuff without being bothered by aesthetics too much. Crime fiction is only one example. But you know, if you like romance, then you start with Harlequin and work your way up, etc. Not everybody likes the same stuff. People who read Jane Austen will find Dumas' swashbuckling adventures silly. And people who read Dumas (I.E. me) find Austen useless.
Of course, you will encounter the random oddball who read Faulkner when he was ten years old and had to be checked-in an hospital for accute synesthesia. Good for him. It's not the case for the majority of us. Reading is slightly demanding. When you get bored from a writer, you have the choice of being lazy and stop reading or you can start hitting the internet and search for other writers in the same field. To me, it's one of the most rewarding and exhilarating parts of being a reader. Every time you finish with a writer, you turn the corner and there are endless possibilities for you. Let's take a crime fiction example again. Let's say you read Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon right? Because you liked the movie. You plow further down into his work and find out Red Harvest. Then you do a little research and find about Raymond Chandler, James Cain, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos and Richard Price, only to name a few. And that's only for crime fiction. The more you have fields of interest, the more literature will work you.
It's OK if you don't get symbolism, metaphors and subtlety in text. I've read books after books for what? Ten years now? I'm only starting to get those myself. But you can't rely on people to teach you that. Especially not high school teachers. You can only rely on your Common Sense Gene to guide your efforts.